Equitable Water Sharing: DARE Response to Murray-Darling Basin Deal

This week the Albanese government has forged an agreement with the Greens that could channel over 700 gigalitres of water annually from farming towards environmental use across the Murray-Darling Basin via Commonwealth buybacks.

The deal encompasses a $100 million fund earmarked to facilitate First Nations’ involvement in the water market, along with a commitment to restore 450 gigalitres of water to the environment annually by December 31, 2027. Adjustments to the legislation are proposed to honour and acknowledge the historical ties, connections, and water necessities of First Nations people.

DARE Director and leading hydrologist at The University of Sydney, Willem Vervoort, provided the following response:

“The announced agreement between the government and the Greens to increase water buy backs and provide specific funding for access of First Nations to the water market is an important step to achieve further equitable outcomes of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The original infrastructure improvements have so far failed to achieve the water savings that were projected, and it is important to be agile and adjust the plan to changing needs.

However, achieving equitable water sharing also means addressing the declines in employment and income opportunities related to water buybacks and from shifting water from productive agriculture to the environment. While the increased production cost can be shifted to consumers, the loss of local employment, business opportunities and the flow on to services cannot be easily shifted.

The money invested in the buybacks is hardly ever reinvested in the rural community, but most likely moves to money centres on the Eastern seaboard. This is a negative “externality” of using the water market for environmental buybacks. In contrast, increasing water use efficiency retains the money locally.

It is important to supply necessary water for the environment. But we need to be careful that the rural communities, already doing it tough through droughts and floods, are not further disadvantaged. There is an urgent need to provide additional opportunities in natural resources and the environment, including agriculture, to support flourishing rural communities.”